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Achim Steiner Receives ELI’s Environmental Achievement Award

Monday, November 6, 2017
Laura Frederick

Laura Frederick

Grants & Development Writer

On October 18th, the Environmental Law Institute hosted its annual ELI Award Dinner. Affectionately known as the “environmental law prom,” over 650 of the best and brightest environmental professionals from across the country descended upon Washington, D.C., to connect with colleagues and honor this year’s winner of the ELI Environmental Achievement Award.

Achim Steiner

This year’s distinguished honoree was Achim Steiner, Administrator for the United Nations Development Programme, for his visionary leadership on global sustainability and rule of law in the environmental setting. ELI President Scott Fulton praised Mr. Steiner as “a singular champion for rule of law in the environmental sphere, positioning environmental law at the heart of sustainable development and a just, fair, and sustainable future for everyone.”

Mr. Steiner has long been a thought leader on how to leverage finance, policy, and business-driven solutions to reduce carbon emissions, catalyze clean energy innovation, and drive sustainable economies in both developed and developing countries. His career has spanned three decades, beginning with field work in developing countries for Germany’s Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). He later served as IUCN’s Director General before beginning a decade-long tenure as Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, along with his tour as United Nations Under-Secretary General. Mr. Steiner was appointed as administrator of the United Nations Development Programme in April 2017. No one has brought more breadth, innovation, and sustained effort to building holistic environmental governance systems, and to producing the future that we want and need.

Mr. Steiner’s longtime peer and friend, Kristalina Georgieva, Chief Executive Officer of the World Bank, offered a warm introduction, describing her friend as a man with a “soft voice, iron will, and an incredible ability to bring stakeholders from all walks of life together on very controversial topics and then drive a consensus.”

This theme of cooperation and partnership carried into Mr. Steiner’s extraordinarily poignant remarks focusing on the fundamental value of rule of law. “Law is not just about codifying the rules,” said Mr. Steiner. “It is about codifying the foundations of what binds us together in society. [Law] expresses values, choices about what is acceptable and not acceptable, and makes that part of a codified social contract. It is principled. It also provides us with due process.” Ultimately, he said, it “allows us to do things that otherwise we would not be able to do, together.”

This is especially important, Mr. Steiner reminded guests, as for the first time in history, human beings have become the dominant force shaping the future of our planet. Our decisions define the options and realities of the next generations and we have a duty to weave a fabric that allows the present and future to practice a responsible set of choices. Rule of law provides a path to do this.

Mr. Steiner concluded his remarks by noting that he chose to return to the United Nations because of its commitment to multilateralism and the “notion that we need one another.” He added that “We need institutions that allow us to transact on this fundamental recognition that we need one another in order to succeed, to thrive, to protect, and above all to ensure future generations have something to look forward to with optimism.”

Achim Steiner was an ideal choice to receive ELI’s Environmental Achievement Award, as his conceptualization of the importance of rule of law aligns perfectly with the mission of ELI. As an institution that convenes diverse groups to solve problems, we could not agree more that commitment to the rule of law can be a driving force to forge consensus on the world’s most pressing environmental issues.

Achim Steiner’s full speech can be watched on ELI’s website at https://www.eli.org/award-dinner.